November 1, 2015 ~ Testimony
Hi, my name is Justin, I am a grateful believer who struggles with several self- destructive tendencies that mainly manifest themselves in drug and alcohol abuse, but I am finding freedom in Christ. This is how I introduce myself on Tuesday nights here at CR. To some this might seem like the end of my story and to others this is just the beginning, but to God I am sure it’s somewhere in the middle.
My walk with Christ started at a young age. I was an active member of church and youth group through high school and had received Christ and was baptized at age eleven. As I moved off to college and got to see other parts of the country, I started to fall into the temptations of the world. By age 21, I was in Memphis, TN and had already been arrested for one DUI and been to drug treatment. At this time, I still had my faith but did not practice it, and I am sure most of my friends did not know that I was a Christian. By age 23, I was living in Berkeley, California and living completely for myself and for this world. This also was the time that my family lost my Uncle Mike to a horribly quick battle with cancer. My Uncle Mike was a Christian Minister who had gone to Bible College then spent a couple years in Africa as a missionary and devoted the rest of his life to the Lord and to the church. He was the definition of what a good Christian man and father should be, and he was gone. He left behind a wife and three kids to grieve and struggle. It was at this time I lost my faith. I remember thinking, “ How can there be a God that allows this to happen to such a good man and family, and doesn’t punish me while I am doing so much wrong?” This is one thing you should never challenge God with, because He will allow you to follow your path, going down as low as you want to go.
While I was doing “good” and somewhat successful in California I would step back and say “look at what I did, look at what I created, and I created all my success.” The main problem with this kind of attitude is that when things start to go wrong you have nothing and nobody to fall back on for help. This happened around the year 2000. I lost my job, home, relationships and pretty much everything I had thought was my life. This was the first time God tried to get my attention, and I had a choice to make… here I was, hurt and alone. Was I going to become hardened or, was I going to ask God to heal me? I chose to become hardened.
The next ten years are somewhat of a blur, with some ups and downs (definitely more downs than ups) at the end of which landed me back in Wichita, KS. This is where I first started going to church and following the Lord. I was still living for the world and was trying to convince myself there was no God. Thinking back at these times I don’t know if I truly thought that God did not exist or if I was trying to convince myself so I didn’t have to think about the things I was doing and knowing that God was watching me. In 2010 my life would be changed and my very foundation of which I stood would start to fall. I received my second DUI which ultimately resulted in me losing my job, shortly thereafter my relationship and my home were lost as well. Over the next couple years I allowed this hurt to harden my heart. I experienced homelessness and poverty to a level that I would never wish on my worst enemy and hope that nobody has to go through. I slept under bridges, pan-handled, all the while battling depression and ultimately suicidal thoughts. Each day was a struggle to find a reason to keep going. This might seem hard to believe as you see me standing before you, in fact it is hard for me to think about these times as I write these words.
While living on the streets, I did a lot of things I thought I would never do. Begging for spare change and pan-handling was one of them. In fact, a couple weekends I found myself out by the Target at 29th and Maize, and there is a possibility I crossed paths with some of the congregation here. To those of you that helped me, I thank you.
I am going to try to explain this next part through my eyes and my thoughts. When I was at my lowest and brought to begging, I was really crying out for help. I was at the end of my rope and whether I knew it or not, I was looking for a reason to live. I was looking for hope in humanity, and I was looking for God to reveal himself through His people, and He did. With a lot of anonymous help from people around the city, I made it through some of my hardest days and eventually I found my way to the Union Rescue Mission. This is the homeless shelter for men and a great resource for anyone who is struggling with the things that I was struggling with. It was there that I started to see glimpses of sobriety and health, both physical and spiritual health. I started reading the Bible and attending Bible studies and eventually rededicated my life to the Lord in 2012.
I wish I could say that it was at this time that my life just magically was fixed, but according to Dave that doesn’t exist!!!! I still had my struggles and still had my set-backs as well as victories. And although I was starting to live for the Lord, it was still hard for me to not get hardened whenever I got hurt.
During this time, I found the Oxford House, which is a peer based recovery house. It’s basically a sober house that allows the inmates to run the asylums. Each house is democratically run, and the main rules consist of not using drugs or drinking, pay your own bills, and no disruptive behavior. This is a wonderful model for recovery that I am a huge supporter of and there is plenty of research that shows how successful it is. Plus there is the cost benefit. Since each member has to pay his own share there is absolutely no tax payers money used, unlike drug treatments and jails that are entirely supported by our tax dollars. And if you would like to know more about the Oxford house or how you can help, just ask me, as anyone who knows me, I love to talk about the Oxford house.
But the only thing that is better than the Oxford house is God (who I am sure had His hand in creating). And while He has been pulling on my heart for the last three years, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that I allowed Him to start healing my heart. It was about 19 months ago that I relapsed and was asked to leave the Oxford house that I was staying at. This was a hard time for me but very necessary for my healing and grow. Had that not happened, I would not be where I am now. During that relapse I ended up in the hospital and ran into a friend that I had known through recovery and the Oxford house. He was there to see another friend but sat and talked to me for a while. He asked if I was ready to surrender and let God heal me. I obviously responded with yes, and I was humbled to the point of willingness to completely surrender and care for God. During this conversation with my friend, I asked if he could look into contacting our buddy Scott about finding me some work. My friend said that he actually had some work with his company, and I started working for him the following Monday. This started the ultimate healing in my life. It was at this job that I reconnected with another old friend who was staying at the Dunsworth Oxford house. I had heard of this particular house because of the success it was achieving and all of the good things it did for the community. Unfortunately, because of its success and reputation it is a tough house to get into, but I applied and put my name on the waiting list. God helped me to stay vigilant and sober while I waited, and shortly thereafter an opening was available and I moved into what is still my home today.
During the last three years, I have been looking and praying for a good church home. Even though I had attended several good churches and saw God working in them I hadn’t felt like I had found what I was looking for until last summer. Since I had moved down the street, I passed by West Ridge at least twice a day and kept thinking that I needed to check it out. It took me a few weeks, but I finally did come one Sunday. I sat in the back row with my big beard and hat. The first couple Sundays I showed up one minute early and left immediately following the service. Unfortunately, the second time I showed up Chuck would not let me leave so quickly. He introduced himself and after talking to him for a little bit and sharing about myself he invited me to come back and to even try out Celebrate Recovery. And the rest is history, hahaha. Up until this point, I had worked the twelve steps through AA and even though this helped me, I always felt like something was missing, and I found it at CR. Through CR I have found the tools to succeed over life’s hurts habits and hangups. I struggle with more than just drugs and alcohol, I struggle with self-destructive tendencies that keep me from God. I am proud to say that it has been over 17 months since I have picked up a drug or a drink. It’s been over 6 months that I have been cigarette and nicotine free, and God has helped me with my eating habits over the past ten months, and I have lost over 90 pounds this year!!! And I owe all of my success to God who strengthens me. He led me to the hospital a year and a half ago for healing, and He led me to West Ridge for healing, and He brought me to this community where I am finding healing today. I really appreciate this whole congregation for what you have done here and in my life. I can’t thank each person because I know I will leave some out. But Dave, you have been there for me and you followed Gods calling to start this church so thank you and the board that helped make it happen. Plus you helped me get my job before I knew I needed a new job and career and that introduced me to Pat Teakell, (which I am still trying to figure out was a blessing or a curse). Chuck and everyone at CR you’ve been a great inspiration and been the perfect mix of accountability and encouragement! To Matt, Eric, Thomas and Trey, the members of my small group, you really took me in and showed me what it’s like to be part of a community and taught me what it means when the Bible talks about Iron strengthening Iron. And I would like to thank the praise teams on Sunday and Tuesday at CR for allowing me to play with you. It has been an honor. Thanks for putting up with my struggles and shortcomings but I am truly honored and grateful to use my God given talents for the church.
And to the rest of the congregation, thank you so much for taking me in and treating me like family, encouraging me and blessing me with vehicles and kind words along the way. Please continue to pray for me as I continue on my journey of recovery and living for God in everything I do.